Sure, many agencies post on Facebook, tweet a bit, and publish on LinkedIn. Some buy keywords, and a few do actual advertising. Any kind of marketing is good, but for the most part, few agencies actually develop a marketing strategy and execute it like they would for their clients. Even fewer integrate their marketing activity with their business development, and that directly impacts the chances of success.
Every agency should have a comprehensive marketing plan, and every plan should have one primary objective. Grow sales. I hate to be so blunt, but it's true. Every activity, every hour, every dollar spent should focus on this. Like any business, without sales, nothing else matters. Of course, marketing can get very expensive, and agency business models rarely allow anything more than a pittance for their marketing activity. According to recent research, professional services firms should allocate 9% – 11% of gross revenue. The SBA recommends 7% – 8%. Depending on your size, that might not be much.
Agencies have an advantage over most businesses because they embody creativity, innovation, vast marketing experience, and unabashed courage. Yet you rarely see the result of that in the little marketing they do. I asked one agency leadership team how they think they can get the attention of the CMOs they target. Chin scratching, pencil fidgeting, we don't know. That's why we hired you! Yes, but the point is, if their client asked them the same question, they would have 12 clever ideas the next day and one that might work.
I've talked about this subject with a lot of agencies. I hear some common themes. We have to spend all our budget on recruitment. Find the right talent is hard. Our overhead is too high, leaving no room for a marketing budget. We spend when we need to. Marketing is just too expensive. We'd be less than a drop in a very big bucket. We run some PPC, or keywords, sometimes, but get little from it. Agencies have many different reasons. What if clients were the same way? I know some are, but it is usually the competent counsel of the agency that compels clients to develop a plan that outsmarts the competition. It starts with a well-crafted marketing plan to avoid mistakes, mixed messages, wasted resources, and missed targets.
Agency Planning Meetings
All agency leaders know the purpose and value of a marketing plan, but few take real action. Agency planning meetings start with the right goals. Next year we want to increase our revenue by 10% with 3% coming organically and 7% from new clients. The head of account service shares how they will get 3% from current clients. The head of new business shares their plan to get 7% from new clients. And the designated person responsible for social media shares what they plan to do in the coming year. Each describes their tactics, and the plan is set. Off they go into another year determined to hit targets with little or no strategy, marketing support, or coordination. In most cases, the strategy is nothing more than hope.
Some agencies go at it differently. They think like a marketer; I have to grow sales. I see the opportunity here and there. I know the challenges are this and that. I need to do these five things to overcome those challenges and achieve my goals. But then they go further. They aren't going to do anything else. Every effort will be confined to supporting tactics, tested, optimized, or defunded, to give them the best chance of achieving their goals. There are no sacred cows, no legacy accommodation, no pet projects. If any tactic doesn't move the ball forward, it doesn't belong in the agency. And then they go about executing with focus, determination, and an unwavering desire to succeed. Does that sound like a client? It should sound like you.
It's what you've been doing for client after client. It's what you've done successfully for others that has made your agency successful. For some reason, so few agencies can do it for themselves. And those who try, too often fail because everyday emergencies steal attention, staff, and focus away from the plan. Those that overcome the odds and stick to it are the agencies that grow. They plan, they spend, and they execute while dealing with the ups and downs of agency life. It's not easy. It's one of the hardest things an agency must do. But, must be done do to survive and thrive in the years ahead.
What does an agency marketing plan look like?
There are many types and variations. But each has some common elements. First, they strive for sales and marketing alignment. Alignment means a common strategy that governs every aspect of what the agency shares with the world from the website to social media, content, and HR. The core messages that position and differentiate the agency are evident and complementary across everything. No more dog pictures on Facebook while sharing case studies on LinkedIn. No more Friday Follies on Twitter while posting beautiful campaigns on Instagram. When sales and marketing are aligned, every impression reinforces and complements the other and communicates the same positioning and value proposition.
Like every marketing plan, it starts with the objectives and the specific strategies that will achieve those objectives. There should be no time or money available to deviate. Those strategies are realized through whatever tactics the agency can manage, few or many. Those tactics are aligned with the prospect's journey from initial discovery to the final outcome. And, are measured, optimized, and revised or dumped. From a prospect's point of view, they gain a fuller, more complete understanding of the agency's value and can make a better, more informed decision about whether the agency is the right solution for them. Unfortunately, what most prospects see are cute dogs, a ping pong tournament champion, happy thoughts for the day, and maybe a recent campaign post if the client allows it. What's the prospect's takeaway? Confused, uncertain, and moving on.
A simple marketing plan outline is a great place to start. While each section informs the next, I usually start somewhere in the middle and bring the ends together through the process, rethinking, revising, and refining as I go. Some information might not be available, so I make the best use of what I've got and keep moving through the process. It is okay to leave some things out if it means completing the plan on time. You may have your own template, sections, order, or a completely different approach. I follow this basic outline and add or subtract sections as needed.
- Executive Summary – this comes last as a summary of the overall plan with unique or key features of the plan, including specific and measurable goals.
- Market Research – your industry and marketplace trends, agency competitors (both actual and aspirational) along with their value propositions and positioning compared and contrasted with yours, industry verticals analysis and how they go to market, what's trending that's relevant to them, and the challenges, both micro and macro
- Target Prospects – titles, organizational structures, influences, decision-making processes such as procurement or leadership
- Agency Brand – the elevator pitch, company description, brand style guide, unique selling proposition, and positioning strategy
- Sales and Marketing Materials – collateral, case studies, thought leadership, research reports, industry observations, agency expertise, leadership spotlights, and other elements
- In and Outbound Strategy – all the tactics; social, keywords, advertising, events, blogging, posting, content, website, the agency can manage and afford
- Joint Ventures, Partnerships and Certifications Strategy – if relevant, organizations, people, associations that will add value to the overall plan and precisely support the agency's objectives
- Referral Strategy – including specific tactics aligned with the plan that use the agency's broad network of contacts and relationships to uncover and pursue new revenue
- Organic Growth Strategy – including specific tactics aligned with the plan to increase revenue from current clients
- Financial Projections – revenue projects when the goals are achieved along with milestones and measurements that are specific, realistic, and have accountability.
You can add any unique characteristics that you think are important. As stated earlier, agencies have the advantage of creativity, innovation, vast marketing experience, and unabashed courage. Put it to good use. The outline is your canvas, and each element should reflect the creativity, experience, and courage that defines your agency. That said, don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Any marketing plan should always be in beta, adjusting, adapting, and evolving as your data and market conditions dictate. No plan will be successful if it isn't executed with discipline and tenacity. Operating without one is only hurting your agency.
Do you need help with your agency marketing plan? I’ve got a lot of experience creating simple plans that work for both the agency and the business development team. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!